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“It was a good day for us.”
Those were the first seven words Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze said after the Rebels defeated UT-Martin 76-3 in their home season opener of the 2015-16 college football season.
Ole Miss (1-0) finished the game with 662 yards of total offense and each of its quarterbacks threw at least one touchdown.
Even though Freeze named junior college transfer Chad Kelly the starting quarterback for the Rebels’ season opener against the Skyhawks, he felt it was right to give Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade snaps on offense as the quarterback race is still ongoing.
Kelly, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, came out a tad bit sluggish with a handful of missed opportunities to wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Markell Pack and tight end Evan Engram. But Kelly quickly settled into his own, striking a 56-yard downfield touchdown pass to Pack in the clear to give Ole Miss an early 20-0 lead in the first quarter.
On 2nd-and-7 from the Rebels 20, Kelly ran swiftly passed UT-Martin’s defense for his first rushing score in a Rebels uniform.
“I thought Chad Kelly’s performance was really solid,” Freeze said about Kelly, who went 9 for 15 for 211 yards and two touchdowns in his Ole Miss debut. “Kelly did miss a touchdown throw, and probably could have thrown one a little bit better on the fade to Laquon Treadwell early in the game, but outside of that I think he had a solid day. We will get back to watching film, but I felt pretty good about him out there.”
Buchanan stood back in the pocket on the team’s next two drives for the 15 and 31-yard touchdown passes to Quincy Adeboyejo and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who recorded a blocked field goal, three tackles and a quarterback hit in the first half.
Kelly would get another deep pass to wideout Cody Core midway through the second quarter for 57 yards that resulted in his second touchdown pass of the afternoon.
At halftime, the Rebels led 41-0 over UT-Martin (0-1)–who ended with only 290 yards of total offense on 68 plays. Skyhawks quarterback Jarod Neal, who threw for 1,880 yards last season, was 13 of 24 for 139 yards and an interception. The running game was just as flat-footed as the passing game, tallying up just 116 yards.
Ole Miss’ 76 points are the most in a game and largest-margin of victory since a 92-0 win against West Tennessee Teachers College, now known as Union University, in 1935. Under Freeze, the Rebels improve to 4-0 against FCS schools.
“UT-Martin head coach Jason Simpson is a great friend of mine. The score was a little lop-sided,” Freeze said. “I told Simpson afterwards that I am not sure what I could have done differently, and he was great.”
The Rebels kept the game scoreless, 55-0. The Skyhawks, then, used a 5-play, 68-yard drive late in the third quarter to set up a 29-yard field goal by Jackson Reddit. UT-Martin’s only scoring drive of the afternoon started when Neal found wide receiver Najee Ray for a 64-yard reception on the first play of the drive. That was the Skyhawks biggest play of the game on either side of the football.
UT-Martin’s cornerback Jordan Landry intercepted one of Kelly’s passes, but Neal threw an interception to Elston, who returned it the other way for 93 yards.
“We played all right. We had a lot of errors where we could have done better,” Nkemdiche said. “It was the first game. We’re getting our chemistry together. We can get in and watch film to eliminate the negative plays to get ready for Fresno State.”
Before the trio of quarterbacks were the centerpiece of Saturday’s home opener, senior running back Jaylen Walton displayed his explosive breakaway speed with a 60-yard touchdown run at the 11:06 mark in the first quarter for the game’s first score.
After a quick 5-play, 19-yard drive from UT-Martin that resulted in its third punt with under eight minutes to go, Walton ran in from Ole Miss 4-yard line for his second rushing touchdown. Running backs Eugene Brazley and D.K. Buford each had a rushing touchdown for a Rebels team that averaged 4.2 yards per carry a season ago.
“To be excited for all of the young kids to get in and make plays, and to see them enjoying the game of football, it is very rewarding,” Freeze said.
Kelly started the 5-play, 26-yard scoring drive with a 10-yard bullet to Treadwell, then Kincade connected with Treadwell for 12 yards. Treadwell, who recovered from a broken leg from last season, had four catches for 44 yards.
“He looked explosive, but it was an average performance,” Freeze said about Treadwell, who received a standing ovation from the home crowd after his first catch. “It was really good seeing Laquon Treadwell get tackled and be able to bounce back up, but he has to get back out there and get some more plays.”